About Those Lamps

This site shows our love for the myriad interesting people and details that make up the world of the Bible. Would our header picture do any less? Let’s take a look…

Without the flame, we might not guess that the two things are even lamps. They might look more like a teapot and a weirdly shallow pitcher, but it immediately teaches us about Biblical oil lamps. Let’s look further.

We’ve avoided the “Aladdin’s Lamp” shape, which gets pictured in all sorts of logos. Aladdin’s lamp gets used `cuz people recognize it, and it’s probably recognized because it’s used everywhere.

Problem is, no one in the Biblical world owned one, though they’d probably have loved the design, if only the commonfolk could afford to own metal, and could afford to pay for the craft-work needed to create them.

Still, it makes a great logo. If you want to use flame as a metaphor for knowledge, truth and understanding, Aladdin’s Lamp is probably the most useful place to put one. It’s a compromise that works well.

Except… in a site that claims to love the Biblical world. We have a problem; Bible geeks will have fun with Biblical details. We have to be accurate without being picky.

On the right side is what Archaeologists call a Canaanite lamp; it’s the style typical of Old Testament times. It’s probably not like the lamps in the Tabernacle or King David’s palace, though his servants’ quarters probably had lots of ’em.

We’d suspect they tipped over easily and set lots of fires. I filled mine with water to snap the picture, and spilled LOTS of it. (The flame got PhotoShopped in later, so my house is still standing…) A potter could churn ’em out in no time, flat, even on a potter’s wheel that was way off-balance, and the spout is formed with the fingers in the muddy-wet clay. (Hint: stop the wheel before you try this.) If you wanted light in Old Testament times, this was the standard model and you knew it well.

The more spill-proof lamp on the left is called a Herodian lamp, typical of New Testament times. Even I could walk around with one without accidentally setting fire to myself. We would guess that New Testament cities needed fewer fire brigades, and that New Testament evenings were far more boring.

The Herodian lamp is what people would have imagined when Jesus said not to hide one under a basket. It’s probably the type carried by the wise and the foolish virgins in the parable of that name. In Acts 20:8, Eutychus dozed off and fell out a window while Paul was speaking. These were probably the lamps it says were all around; they’re small, and easy to cup in one hand. They’re ancient pocket flashlights.

We’d normally never see both lamps together; it would be like putting modern soldiers servicing a helicopter next to others loading a medieval catapult. Yet together, they tell a special story. We have a picture that immediately lets us identify Biblical lamps. Better yet, we have one lamp from the Old Testament, and one from the New, burning together, with a single flame.

Throughout the Bible, light is a metaphor for knowledge, truth and understanding; it especially represents Jesus: the light of the world.

You only get one header picture and we’re Bible geeks. For us, those lamps just have to be together. And there is their story.